A Different Kind of War Requires a Different Kind of POW Camp Too

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ThinkProgress passes along the following exchange on CNN between Jeffrey Toobin and former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer. The subject is whether and why we need the Guantanamo prison:

TOOBIN: This country fought Adolf Hitler. And I don’t really believe that Osama bin Laden and his group are worse or more dangerous than Adolf Hitler. And we managed to defeat Adolf Hitler by following the rule of law.

FLEISCHER: They followed the law of war. They wore uniforms and they fought us on battlefields. These people are fundamentally, totally by design different. And they need to be treated in a different extrajudicial system.

Ed Kilgore has a bit to say about just how law-abiding the Nazis actually were (ahem), but I want to give Fleischer his due and assume that he intended to say something a bit more insightful than he actually did in the heat of real-time debate. Putting aside the war ethics of the Third Reich, Fleischer is right about a few things:

  • We are mostly fighting against non-state actors.
  • There are no geographical boundaries to this war.
  • There is no way to eventually declare victory, and no way for anyone to formally surrender.

The problem is that this undermines Fleischer’s point, I think, rather than supporting it. Guantanamo is fundamentally a prisoner-of-war camp, but it’s unlike any POW camp in history because we haven’t put in place any boundaries on it. It’s simply a life sentence for many of the prisoners, even if the evidence is thin or nonexistent that they ever fought against us in the first place.

So yes: we’re fighting a different kind of war. That means we need to rethink how we handle POWs too. So far, we haven’t really faced up to that.

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